Sunday, July 09, 2006
With smoking, more stinks than meets the nose
- TOP expects to survive state budget chop
- Early learning stars
- Independent voice is silenced in merger
- TOP takes a hard knock
From the RoundTable blog
I'm not talking about the tobacco industry here, which of course stinks too.
I am reminded of just how much by a couple of former U.S. secretaries of health, who wrote a recent essay criticizing Reynolds Tobacco for making candy-flavored cigarettes. No, not the little sugar sticks with red-dyed tips sold way back when to kids like me who wanted to mimic adults.
Reynolds Tobacco is selling real cigarettes in candy flavors: "Beach Breezer" watermelon, "Bayou Blast" berry, "Kauai Kolada" pineapple and coconut -- the better to hook you, my dear, when you are young and most likely to develop a lifelong habit, if cigarette makers can just get you over that natural aversion to sucking yukky poisons into your lungs.
Joseph Califano Jr., secretary of health, education and welfare in the Carter administration, and Louis Sullivan, secretary of health and human services in the George H.W. Bush administration, explain the nefariousness of the marketing strategy in a June 29 Washington Post opinion piece that's worth reading.
Today, though, I want to talk about how much tobacco stinks in the smoking of it. It stinks while smokers are puffing, and it stinks long afterward. It clings to clothing and furnishings, and it lingers on smokers' breath.
I'm not trying to hurt anyone's feelings here. I just want to make clear to smokers everywhere that, yes, your habit does bother all the nonsmokers around you more than you know.
Smoke is like any unpleasant odor. Mercifully, you get somewhat numb to it once you get used to it. But as the health effects of second-hand smoke become more apparent and smoke-free zones expand, nonsmokers are exposed less and less to the noxious weed.
And the less we're exposed to it, the worse it smells when we are. That's just one of those ironies of life, one that seems to make diehard smokers feel more and more like a persecuted minority. When you ask if I mind if you smoke and I say "sorry, but yes," I'm not feeling self-righteous or trying to crush one of your pleasures. I'm just telling you straight that if you smoke, I'll be feeling sick.
It was not always so.
When I started in newspapering, smoking wasn't an actual requirement for full acceptance among the veterans of the trade. But it helped. I never took a survey -- it never would have occurred to me back then -- but I'd guess now that half my co-workers on the copy desk, where I started on the old Roanoke Times & World-News, were smokers. And most of the smokers were heavy smokers.
I worked most nights with a smoker directly across from me, a smoker to the right of me and maybe a smoker to the left, depending on the schedule for any given shift. I've never taken up the habit, but I inhaled plenty of fumes back then without complaint -- not because I was more tolerant in my youth. Tolerance, I've learned, comes with age.
No, the smoke simply didn't bother me as much then. Smoke was so prevalent throughout the newsroom, who could smell it?
As the bad health effects of second-hand smoke became an issue, though, employers started trying to spare nonsmokers the ill effects. Some workplaces began restricting smokers to special lounges. I jokingly referred to ours as "the cancer wards" -- ah, the careless cruelty of youth. Then many workplaces finally issued an out-and-out ban.
Smokers had to go stand outside in the cold, the rain and the dark of night to deliver themselves their needed nicotine hit. That's the way they saw it, anyway, and smokers started whining about being made to feel like pariahs for enjoying a pleasure that was, after all, legal.
This nonsmoker saw it as a work break that I didn't get.
Pariahs? Hardly! The smokers huddled together against the elements, swapped all the gossip and formed an interdepartmental bond that our human resources office could only dream about replicating with little ice cream socials in the employee lounge.
Dang those smokers! They always looked like they were having fun -- still do. And I guess they are -- in a slow-killing, so-as-not-to-notice-it-today kind of way.
And that's where workplace smoking bans stand today. Companies that want to ban smoking do. Companies that don't, do not. This is America. Shouldn't they be free to decide?
A U.S. Surgeon General's report last month suggests not. Exposure to second-hand smoke increases a nonsmoker's risk of heart disease and cancer as much as 30 percent, the report notes. Exposure among pregnant women and babies is a leading cause of sudden infant death syndrome.
Smokers' rights end where they infringe on nonsmokers' rights to be free of a danger to themselves that they have not chosen.
Other people's smoke smells worse to me today than it did 20 or 30 years ago. Plus, I now understand it is compromising my health, as well as that of smokers. And that stinks, bad.
Next session, Virginia's General Assembly should mandate a workplace ban.
Elizabeth Strother is on the editorial board of The Roanoke Times.